Arriving in a foreign country, far from home and family, can be a frightening experience. Luckily for refugee students at the University of Saskatchewan, the campus branch of the World University Service of Canada is ready to help.
WUSC U of S is composed of students from a variety of backgrounds and areas of study. The group starts its work every academic year in late August or early September, when the Student Refugee Program of Canada’s Ottawa branch places a few refugee students — usually around three — at the U of S.
Stephanie Deptuch, a third-year Edwards School of Business student and co-chair of WUSC U of S, explained that while it is exciting to warmly welcome these new students, offering practical help is just as important.
“[Most popular] is going to the airport to watch as the student refugees arrive to their first day in Canada,” Deptuch said. “But my favorite way to help them is by meeting with a group of the students to help them fill out their student loans applications.”
The members of WUSC go on to assist the new students with tasks such as purchasing textbooks or registering for classes — things that may seem overwhelming to someone still recovering from culture shock.
Celestin Usengumuremyi, a third-year regional and urban planning student who has been elected to serve as a SRP coordinator for WUSC, was a refugee who benefitted from WUSC’s programs.
“The committee arranges events as the semester goes on, to keep the students entertained. Some events are like skating, sledding, potluck, movie nights and many more,” Usengumuremyi said. “[WUSC] serves as a new family to the new arrived students.”
Usengumuremyi feels that WUSC’s welcome — including “Welcome to the University of Saskatchewan” posters held up at the airport when she landed — and continued support were key to her success in adjusting to her new life. She became involved with helping WUSC as soon as she could, feeling that its work was indispensably important on campus.
Welcoming and aiding refugee students at the U of S is not WUSC’s only focus. Every year, WUSC holds a fundraiser called Shine a Light, which aims to raise money for solar lamps in refugee camps to further the availability of education for girls.
“In the camps, girls are not allowed to study as much as boys because they are expected to take care of the home,” Usengumuremyi said. “The girls are then prone to find ample time to study at night, where these donated lights come into play and bolster their education.”
Usengumuremyi thinks Shine a Light should be important to every student on campus because despite educational privileges, students understand the effort it takes to achieve academic goals. Erica Ancode, a first-year College of Agriculture and Bioresources student and member of WUSC, agrees.
“Some Canadian students tend to take education for granted, because they’re unaware of the misfortunes of others,” Ancode said. “It’s timely and very relevant. It’s both raising awareness [of] gender equality and education, and some may not realize how much of global issues both are.”
The 2016 Shine a Light Gala will take place on Feb. 26 in Marquis Hall. Ticket sales go toward purchasing lamps, with any extra contributing to improving basic school supplies. Plus, this year’s event has plenty of entertainment in store.
“[It] will be very interactive and semi-formal, complete with a presentation about the specific initiatives of Shine a Light, performers, cocktails, dinner buffet, silent auctions, 50/50 draw, grand prize, photo booth and a dance party to follow!” Deptuch said.
If students miss Shine a Light, there are plenty of other ways to get involved with WUSC and their various projects. In the 2016-17 academic year, WUSC will be welcoming six refugee students — doubling their total from recent years. If students want to get involved, they are always welcome to join the family.
“Be the change you would like to see,” Usengumuremyi said. “Go the extra mile by participating and volunteering with WUSC U of S.”
For more information on Shine a Light and WUSC, visit WUSC U of S on Facebook.
Image: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor